With NYC’s Schools Now Shut, Officials Ponder a Path to Reopening

New York City, forced to shut down its in-class instruction Thursday as its citywide virus infection rates surpassed a 3% milestone, must now draft new rules for reopening its schools that are even more stringent than ones adopted in August in advance of the school year, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

“We’re going to reset the equation for the new facts we have and make them safe again and get our schools back,” de Blasio said during a news briefing Thursday.

The city’s trend of coronavirus milestones continued to rise with a seven-day average of 1,255 new cases reported as of Nov. 17, and an infection rate of 3.01%, almost matching the previous day’s 3.00%.

On the city’s first day of going to an all-remote system for its 1.1 million students, de Blasio said the city focused too little attention to the issue of how to come back from a shutdown when it first set its rules of opening the schools in August.

“For a long time it looked like we could hold off a second wave,” de Blasio said. “So our focus was not on what to do ‘if.’ Our focus was on getting our schools up and running.”

Now as the citywide infection rate hovers above the 3% threshold, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said the entire city may face restrictions on not just schools, but indoor dining, gyms and other businesses. At his own news briefing Thursday, Cuomo said New York City had not yet crossed that threshold according to the state’s calculations. Still, De Blasio said the restrictions are inevitable, “not a question of if, but when,” he said.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 virus infection was almost non-existent within the schools, with test results hovering below 0.2% system wide. The low rate was due to stringent cleaning measures, social distancing, mask-wearing rules and vigilant monitoring of test results, Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said during the briefing.

Officials are now discussing a range of more stringent rules, including a requirement that parents sign testing consent forms as a condition to permitting students to attend in-school classes. The mayor declined to be more specific about the criteria for reopening while negotiations continue with unions, state and local health officials and parents.

“It’s the first time we had to confront the notion that we hit this 3% standard,” de Blasio said. “Our goal is to come back with even higher standards and make it work.”

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